In this article, we examine how the concept of theatrical presence is constructed and dismantled in theatrical criticism. We first explore how ‘presence’ is invoked as a concept through allusion to things such as aura, unmediated experience and physical and unconscious communication and consider what constitutes the characteristics of ‘presence’ when it is employed as a theatrical form in opposition to representation. We then analyse the strategies that are employed to dismantle the concept of presence – and the processes with which it is associated – through allusion to the textual and to culture. In exploring this matter, we argue that many of the assumptions that inform existing debate about presence invite further interrogation. Opponents of presence tend to overestimate representation while remaining mute on the topic of the processes that precede consciousness. Advocates of presence, meanwhile, though gesturing towards unconscious processes, too often cast the real as gateway to a spiritual or mystical realm or a state of pure being. We end by arguing that rather than be explained through reference to informal or mystical ideas, ‘presence’ must be otherwise developed.